If you have been following my contributions to Thursday Doors over the years, you will know that I do voluntary work as a doctor overseas. Last year I was working at Kakumbi Rural Health Centre in Eastern Province, Zambia. It was distressing to see the lack of medical care for people with severe mental illness, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Their families would look after them as best they could; but if the patients became violent or started destroying property, this support could end. Patients would roam around the village, clearly very disturbed, behaving inappropriately (throwing stones at vehicles, wandering about naked).
Unfortunately, the Zambian Health Service has been unable to provide medication to treat this group of patients. I started treating them using very basic psychiatric medication which I bought from a local pharmacy (with some financial help). These patients need long term medication and if the supply were to stop, they are likely to relapse and become very unwell. So last year I asked my friends on Facebook if they would like to contribute and I raised over £1000. All this money has now been used up, purchasing medication locally for over 20 patients.
Drs Keith and Ginny Birrell (from North East England) are currently volunteering in Kakumbi. They have expanded the pool of patients to include people suffering from epilepsy and children with learning disabilities. Some of their anecdotes follow:
They have treated a 14 year old boy suffering from epilepsy which was so disabling that it prevented him from attending school. With medication, he is now almost seizure-free and is keen to start school (although he will be twice the age of his classmates in Year 1).
With anti-psychotic medication, a 49 year old woman, who suffers from chronic schizophrenia, is no longer having hallucinations or having violent outbursts.
Walking and bicycling are the main ways people get about in rural Zambia. Cycling can be very dangerous for people living with epilepsy, but with regular medication seizures can be well controlled (if the patient feels an epileptic attack coming on, they have been trained how to stop, dismount and lie in a safe place). Being able to ride a bike because their epilepsy is well controlled might seem trivial, but to this group of patients it is a major improvement in their quality of life.
When patients are stable, Dr Keith is trying to reduce the dose of anti-psychotic medication – to reduce side effects, not to save money!
I am hoping to raise £2,500 to buy medication for this group of vulnerable and disadvantaged patients. (I have donated £100 instead of sending Christmas cards this year.)
Every donation will make a difference: you can donate via PayPal